Alfred H. Merrill

Alfred Merrill

Smithgall Chair in Molecular Cell Biology

Throughout my career, my laboratory has studied sphingolipids, a category of lipids that are important in cell structure, signal transduction and cell-cell communication. For more information about what we found, please refer to the Google Scholar or PubMed links below. 

As an Emeritus Professor, I am working on a project that has interested me for a long time--the fact that the active agent in the venom of the brown recluse spider is a sphingomyelinase D that produces a novel product, ceramide 1,3-cyclic phosphate. This activity has also been found in other spiders, bacteria and fungi. With the help of collaborators, I hope to learn more about the organisms that produce and degrade this novel sphingolipid, and possibly find ways to reduce the injury caused by the enzyme when humans encounter it in the environment.


Office Location:
Petit Biotechnology Building, Office 3309


  • PubMed

    Google Scholar

    Georgia Institute of Technology

    School of Biological Sciences
    Research Focus Areas:
  • Cancer Biology
  • Drug Design, Development and Delivery
  • Molecular Evolution
  • Additional Research:

    My laboratory studies a category of lipids, termed sphingolipids, that are important in cell structure, cell-cell communication and signal transduction. This research concerns both complex sphingolipids (sphingomyelins and glycosphingolipids) and the lipid backbones (ceramide, sphingosine, sphingosine 1-phosphate and others) that regulate diverse cell behaviors, including growth, differentiation, autophagy and programmed cell death. The major tool that we use to identify and quantify these compounds is tandem mass spectrometry, which we employ in combination with liquid chromatography for "lipidomic" analysis and in other mass spectrometry platforms (e.g., MALDI) for "tissue imaging" mass spectrometry. To assist interpretation of the mass spectrometry results, and to predict where interesting changes in sphingolipid metabolism might occur, we use tools for visualization of gene expression data in a pathway context (e.g., a "SphingoMAP"). These methods are used to characterize how sphingolipids are made, act, and turned over under both normal conditions and diseases where sphingolipids are involved, such as cancer, and where disruption of these pathways can cause disease, as occurs upon consumption of fumonisins. Since sphingolipids are also components of food, we determine how dietary sphingolipids are digested and taken up, and become part of the body's "sphingolipidome."

    Research Affiliations: Center for Bio-Imaging Mass Spectrometry, Integrated Cancer Research Center, Immunoengineering, Center for ImmunoEngineering, Center for Drug Design Development & Delivery

    IRI Connection: